TEACHING IN THE CHURCH
by Dr. Ken Matto
One of the most dynamic ministries available in the
church today is that of teaching God's Word to a body of hungry Christians. The Sunday
School teacher can exercise as much influence over the Christian as does the Pastor. These
principles are also applicable to any situation where you will be teaching the Scriptures
which could include home groups. There are many Christians placed into the teaching role
but believe they are unqualified. There is some truth to this because not every believer
has the ability to teach nor should be teaching. God gives a warning in James about this:
(James 3:1 KJV) My brethren, be not many masters,
knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
The word "masters" may also be translated
This study is based on personal teaching methods and
observation of many different styles of teaching. While this is by no means the ultimate
study, I will suggest some principles of teaching which will enhance your style and
delivery. It will help increase your value as a teacher. A good teacher is a great asset
to every true church and is welcomed by every education department. Unfortunately, good
teachers are far and few between because there is much lack of commitment on part of some
teachers, also Sunday School teaching is not viewed as a church dynamic. If you will apply
these principles, your class will do a 180 degree about face. Let us look at some of the
- THE BIBLE IS SUFFICIENT
- In many churches there is a severe lack of Bible
based teaching. We have all kinds of guides based on psychology, sociology, and other
topics. The Bible must be the source in every class. Many Christians are very biblically
illiterate and it does not help them to grow in their faith if the Bible is used only as a
support book for the study guide instead of the study guide being ancillary to the Bible.
I raised an objection in a class once when a study guide author took a verse out of
context to make his case. The teacher thanked me for my observation and then went on to
say that we will use the verse the way the author used it. It is dangerous to put man's
word above God's Word. If you use the Bible, your people will grow, if not, they will
shrink. Stand on Scripture whether your class agrees or not.
- BE PREPARED
- Prepare your lessons about four weeks in advance.
This removes the tyranny of the urgent in preparation. I keep about 60 sermons prepared in
case I get a call on Saturday night or Sunday morning to preach. Jay Adams suggests that
preachers prepare their messages about 6 months in advance. He is correct because from the
time you will finish your study which will be given 4 weeks from the time of initial
preparation, God will add to that study and will smooth out any rough edges or replace
invalid points. You will have much time to ponder the study, and by time you deliver it,
you will have a concrete message or study for your class. Do not make the mistake to think
your message is of less value than the sermon. You are in essence preparing a two-way
sermon, which has equal value.
- BE AVAILABLE TO YOUR STUDENTS
- I once taught a class of pre-teens and the first
thing I did in September was to put my telephone number on the blackboard and told them to
write it down. My intention was to be available to them any time they needed me. The
Sunday School teacher cannot follow a pattern, which is to teach and run, and not to be
seen till next week. A teacher must be willing to put themselves in the marketplace for
all students to question them and gain clarification on a teaching.
- CERTAINTY Vs SPECULATION
- As a teacher we must realize we will not know
everything nor are we expected to. When you are certain of a doctrine, then teach it but
if something arises in class and you are asked to comment, but you are not sure, tell
them. A class respects a teacher who does not know everything. Here is a great opportunity
to gain the respect of your students. You simply tell them you do not know the answer but
you will make an attempt to unravel the mystery for them. If you do and it turns into a
prolonged time of study, then give the study in class because if one student is concerned
about it, others are too. If you can answer the question, then call that student, telling
them you have found an answer to their query and will present the study to the entire
- USE THE WHOLE BIBLE
- The entire Bible is the Word of God and no part is to
be ignored in teaching. This comes from a belief that the Old Testament is no longer valid
for the church today. Those churches that teach only the New Testament are teaching half a
Bible and will no doubt be built on doctrines extracted from isolated verses. Do not be
afraid to teach the Old Testament at your church. If someone objects, let them, but just
continue to teach. God the Holy Spirit can still open the spiritual eyes of the most
obstinate believers. If the Old Testament is invalid, then why do we revere such passages
as: Psalm 23; Isaiah 7:14 & 9:6; Genesis 1-3, etc. Do you see how foolish it is to say
the Old Testament is invalid for the church today? When someone objects, ask them that
question and give them the verses. The Bible is one cohesive unit, not two different
sections in opposition.
- CHALLENGE YOUR STUDENTS
- Don't just teach your students, challenge them to
grow in the faith. Challenge them to inculcate the material into their lives. Impress on
them that the Bible is the living Word of God, not just an ordinary book. Most students
have been inundated with commentaries to the point they may not be able to tell the
difference between Scripture and commentary. This is a sad but true situation, especially
for those who use study bibles. Many tend to confuse the notes with Scripture and you must
challenge them to be obedient to the living Word of God. Challenge them to do something
during the week and then come back and report to the whole class about it. Give a short
time for the students to convey to the others that God's Word is alive and vital to the
growth of the Christian. Once the students hear this, their excitement will build and a
new spirit will pervade the class.
- SILENT STUDENTS
- One problem many teachers face is silence in the
class. When a question is posed, do not be intimidated by the silence of the class. Many
teachers are and they tend to answer the question for the class. When this is done a few
times, the class will be programmed to believe they need not worry about answering because
the teacher will do it for them. This stunts the growth of the students. The whole idea of
teaching is to impart knowledge to the hearers, not to do the learning for them. Have you
ever been in a prayer session where everybody waits for the other person to start praying?
When the teacher does not answer the question and waits for the class, they will be more
serious about doing their studies at home.
- Make a conscious effort to get feedback from your
students on both the material you are teaching and your presentation. Many times we do
things unconsciously. I remember the first time I preached, I kept using the word
'okay" after every change of point. My father came to me after the service and told
me about it and I have never done it since. That was 1982. Feedback is important for your
own growth. Do not scorn the negative feedback, turn it into positive inclusion in your
life. Some may criticize the material you are teaching because it is exposing their pet
sin, but the Lord will give you discernment in such matters.
- YOURS IS NOT THE ONLY OPINION
- Although you are the teacher, keep in mind that the
Holy Spirit dwells in every saved person. This creates a situation in which you may be
corrected on an issue, and usually this happens in front of the class. This is the best
way because if you teach error and you are instantly corrected, your class will not be
subject to that teaching until you correct it next week. I remember when I was first
saved, I was teaching on Abraham and I said that Abraham was a Jew. A seminary student
instantly corrected me stating that Abraham was a Chaldean. That one incident caused me to
check twice before I espouse any doctrine or teaching. It was a great help but a blow to
the pride of a new Christian. Dr. Robert A. Cook made a chuckling statement once, he said,
"I wish I knew as much today as I did my first year in college." Isn't that
apropos? I miss him!
- BE A GOOD LISTENER
- Ninety per cent of teaching is listening. A good
listener will asses the mood or spiritual level of his class. Being a good listener allows
you to know where your people hurt the most and where their concerns lie. After you listen
and evaluate, then next quarter you will be able to prepare materials which will help in
those areas. If you become a good listener, you will also increase your confidence base.
People will begin to have much confidence in you as a counselor and friend. If there is
one thing that is needed in the church, it is a good listener. Many Christians do not want
material things from other Christians but they just want to be listened to. This makes for
a great opportunity to help build them in their Christian walk. Listening is a lost art
which must be recovered. Most listening today is based on the attitude of "hurry up
and finish talking so I can talk." My sisters and brothers, these things should not
- CONFRONTING WITHOUT CONFRONTATION
- You are teaching something and suddenly someone
blurts out that the doctrine is incorrect. Now you could say something like: "It is
not", "prove it," or "I did the study and you didn't" or some
other sharp rebuke. These quick answers will engender strife in the class and may cause a
student versus teacher relationship which may destroy the spiritual atmosphere of the
class. Proverbs 15:1 states, "A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words
stir up anger. Let us establish a hypothetical situation. Suppose you are teaching on
the doctrine of imputed sin and a student says that it is an archaic doctrine without any
foundation. You may answer the objection with: "That is an interesting point, how did
you arrive at that conclusion?" Or, "would you care to explain your
theory?" Or, "in my opinion you may be incorrect but let's turn to the Bible and
see what it says." By turning to Scripture, you will be removing human speculation
and putting the burden of proof on the Bible. If their is error and the person is sincere,
they will admit it and you have avoided an argument. I have been in Bible studies where
arguments started at the outset of the study and did not cease until the study ended. I
went home disgusted many times. Healthy confrontation is good for the teacher because it
keeps us on our toes and forces us to do our homework.
- TEACH CONFIDENTLY
- If there is one destructive element in teaching, it
is a teacher who has no biblical absolutes. A teacher who consistently changes their views
daily should not be a teacher. I call these people the "Doctrine of the Day"
crowd, because one day they believe this and the next day that. A teacher that has no
sound biblical roots is going to program their hearers into believing that God has no
absolutes. A teacher that is well rooted in Scripture will teach confidently (not
arrogantly) and will build a strong class. Insecurity is quickly spotted by people. There
is no reason for any Bible teacher to worry about the truth of Scripture since the Bible
has proven itself throughout history. If a teacher does not put their confidence in
Scripture, then the question must be posed, "What is their confidence in?"
- HANDLING ALTERNATE VIEWS
- There will be times when you are expounding a passage
and someone will offer up a valid point about an alternate meaning for that passage. This
is great because it shows your students are doing their homework. Write down the meaning
your student gives you and study it at home. When he/she sees you writing it down, it
gives them a great feeling that you believe they are somebody that counts. Another way to
build your students is when the alternate meaning is pertinent to the lesson, you could
enmesh the persons name in your explanation. For example, "We are talking about
imputed sin and this passage gives us a good understanding of the point at issue, and if
we couple that with the explanation Svetlana gave us, we find we have a cohesive
doctrine." I guarantee, Svetlana will go home feeling great and no doubt will become
more involved in the church because she has been recognized as someone with value. Every
Christian is valuable to God and they better become valuable to us.
- HOLD THE CLASS RESPONSIBLE FOR DOING THEIR LESSON
- One of the most unfair tactics teachers use is
rereading the lesson in class for the benefit of the lazy section. Some will say there are
legitimate reasons they cannot do their lessons. If they watch TV, then their reasons are
groundless. If there is time for leisure activities, there is time for studies. Students
who take the time to study are worth going the extra mile for. Teachers should note those
who do their lessons and when church leaders are needed, use this as a criteria for
choosing, not the amount of money given.
- Remember, the church is a place of spiritual
activity, and those who are serious students of Scripture should be considered for
leadership, not the person who is spiritually dormant. Remind your class that their
spiritual life is a continuum and they should be making a conscious effort to nurture it.
Never threaten to have them ejected for not doing their work because they might quit the
church. Of course that is a conscious decision they will make but do not be their
scapegoat. It is better to have the spiritually lethargic in class than out. Your class
may be their only bit of spiritual training they receive or want, so do nothing to
- NEVER READ A COMMENTARY OR TEACHER'S GUIDE
- This is the most boring and unresponsive method
anyone can use. It conveys to your students they are not worth the time to prepare a
lesson for. Reading a commentary is very boring to the students because it gives them no
opportunity for teacher-student interaction. To sit and listen to some unprepared person
ramble on is an affront to Scripture. The person that adopts this method should be removed
from teaching immediately because it will scatter the sheep. I attended a study session
with just such a teacher, so I remedied the situation by sitting next to a window so I
could look out. The gospel is alive and should not be taught with dead techniques. You may
quote a commentary or teacher's guide, but it should not be the center of study.
Personally, I love the Puritans but they do not become the source of study, only the Bible
can be the source because it is rooted in God.
- ASK QUESTIONS
- Question your students regularly. This will help you
evaluate if you are getting the message across to them. Questions build a great
interaction between the students themselves. Sometimes if the body of students answer
questions, it builds a closer relationship between believers. Many times I have had calls
from people about something I said in class. It keeps the body well oiled. As I previously
stated, do not be intimidated by the silence after a question is posed because everyone is
waiting for the other one to answer. Have patience and the Holy Spirit will motivate
someone to speak. Once somebody does, you may have to appoint a sergeant at arms.
- KEEP THE BIBLE OPEN AND USE IT AS THE AUTHORITY
- Always keep your Bible open and in plain view of your
students, this way they will see your authority is the Bible and it will train them open
for quick retrieval of passages. It will also teach them that authority is not found in
the study guide but in the Bible. It also puts them into the mindset that man's writings
are always subject to the Scriptures. The Bible must be the center if there is going to be
growth within the student body.
- DO NOT RUSH THROUGH THE MATERIAL
- Another mistake teachers make is canceling a student
interaction for the reason of completing the material. There is nothing under the sun
which states, because a lesson is prepared, it must be completed in one session. I have
prepared lessons which have taken many weeks to get through, when it could have been done
in two sessions. A friend of mine attended a church where they studied the book of Luke
for over a year.
- The key to teaching is to verify your students gain
something from the lesson, not to rush through it. If the Bible was used instead of
quarterly lessons, we would have many more biblically literate Christians than we do now.
But because these quarterly journals are dated there is a sense of urgency about getting
through them so we could go on to the next quarter. Whereas if the Bible was used, there
is no rush to get through anything because on every page, we will find something we can
dissect and discuss. Man's writings do not contain this deeper life capability. Christians
cannot discuss the sermon while it is being preached but they should have that privilege
to do so during the Sunday School hour, provided the teacher is well rooted in Scripture.
- WATCH THEIR FACES CAREFULLY
- When I was on Jury duty, the Prosecutor told us that
we are look at the faces of those testifying to see if we can catch them in a lie by means
of facial expressions or eye movements. It is the same with a class. As you teach, take
note of their expressions and you will know whether you have confused them or taught them.
Many will not ask for clarification because they do not want to sound stupid in front of
the class. We all have residuals of vanity in each of us. Facial expression is a great way
to nip confusion in the bud. I remember I once preached to a group of elders and could see
I was confusing them, so I had to somehow salvage the message. By God's grace it was saved
as they discussed it right after I finished.
- USE A BLACKBOARD OR OBJECT LESSON TO HEIGHTEN
- Using any type of visual aids will always enforce the
point you are trying to make. If you search the New Testament, you will see the Lord Jesus
Christ always used visual aids or parables to stress a point. Some of them are: The lilies
of the field; The birds; Wheat and tares; Fig tree, etc. A visual aid has much more effect
on the memory than words. Write key words on a blackboard and keep them up till the lesson
is over. Writing the principles you are teaching on a blackboard will give slow writers
the opportunity to write down the lesson. You will always have speed and slow writers in
every group, so prepare for them by using the visual written word, thus satisfying both
- PREPARE WRITTEN MATERIAL FOR THEM TO TAKE HOME
- Have some type of written material for the people to
take home. Let it contain the principles you plan to offer during the lesson, so if a
person does not want to write them down, they will be there for them to read and study.
This may play right into the hands of the lazy ones in your group but it will be well
worth it when the hungry ones utilize it. You may even want to include a weekly Bible
reading section which contains the passages of Scripture you will be using next week. This
gives them the opportunity to read and study the Scriptures.
- Questions or comments will then be fresh in their
minds. This also makes for good discussion. Many people will forget the lessons 10 minutes
after they leave your class, but if it is written, it will be there for them to use
whenever they choose. Remember as a teacher you want to see your students grow but it is
not your responsibility if some choose not to grow. Desiring not to grow is a conscious
decision made by someone and you should not feel any guilt for their slothfulness, instead
concentrate on those who really have a desire to grow.
- LIVE YOUR MESSAGE
- This is a must for every believer. What good is
teaching the pure gospel if your students see you going into a bar on Saturday night or
see you smoking. I need not comment on this any further as this is a given. Every
Christian must desire to live a sanctified life, we may not be 100% successful, but we
should strive for it.
- DO NOT TEACH IF YOU CANNOT HANDLE IT!
- If you have a short temper or get angry quickly,
teaching is not for you. If you have a job which causes you to be away for any periods of
time, do not accept the teacher's position. If studying bores you, do not accept. A
responsible teacher can expect to be chained to a desk for many hours, which means missing
TV shows and other events. If this is not acceptable, do not teach. Teaching is a
wonderful ministry but it should not be entered into lightly because it carries the same
responsibility as the pastor's job. If there is anything that will hinder you from doing
the most thorough job you can, then either refuse to teach or change your lifestyle. If a
person wants to teach, they must have a desire to put the non-essentials of this life on
the shelf. Might I suggest that if you want to teach but are not sure, ask your Sunday
School Superintendent to allow you to teach a class for 1 or 2 weeks, and have the pastor
and superintendent attend to evaluate. Start as a substitute and work your way into a
regular teaching ministry. Remember this applies to both youth and adult teaching.
- FINAL COMMENTS
- Well I have tried to lay down some grass roots
principles on teaching. The modern church must begin to evaluate their teaching staff and
remove those who are unqualified and shallow. Teaching the Bible is a serious thing. Let
us remember what James warns us about again, it bears repeating, "(James 3:1 KJV)
My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.
James is not kidding, teaching is viewed by God as a serious ministry. Minds and lives are
altered by teaching every day. If you are a teacher, you know that you have a grave
responsibility to care for those under you. It is not a light thing to be considered.
Finally, if you are planning to teach, search yourself thoroughly to see if your motives
are correct, if not, wait until they are. You could do more damage than good.